Monday, February 7, 2011

Irish Fighting for Life

I joined 380 other Notre Dame students on the March for Life January 24th, my third time attending this event. It was one of the most memorable weekends I've ever had and I'd like to describe that experience for you.

We left campus around 8 pm on Friday, January 21, in 5 buses that each held about 60 people. Almost every seat on my bus was filled. We prayed an all-bus Rosary as soon as we hit the highway, then spent the next few hours watching movies (Despicable Me was the popular choice), listening to ipods or talking softly with our friends. A rest stop break yielded Swedish fish for my friends and me to munch before we drifted into a restless sleep, reclining as best we could in the bus seats and burrowed snugly in our puffy coats and sleeping bags used as blankets.

We arrived in D.C. around 7 am on Saturday, when we dropped our cargo at our host church (St. Agnes Parish in Arlington, VA) and hit the ground running to explore the city. We had nothing on the agenda until Monday's March so my friends and I ambled through museums and lunched at Union Station. Georgetown University was our next stop, where we explored campus and attended a special Sunday Vigil Mass for Life with Chicago’s Francis Cardinal George at Georgetown’s main church, Dahlgren Chapel. At the Mass, I was pleased to re-connect with a number of friends from other universities whom I’ve met through my extracurricular involvement. After dinner with a few other Domers, we reunited with a D.C.-dwelling friend at a local restaurant before finally catching a train back to Arlington for a well-earned night’s sleep in the St. Agnes School library.

I’d like to pause here to express my gratitude to the parishioners of St. Agnes Church. They not only lent us their school and parish center to sleep in, but also provided us with delicious, ample breakfasts and snacks throughout our stay. I want to extend my warmest thanks to them for hosting almost 400 college students with such incredible generosity and good grace. I know that I and the other students are very, very grateful.

After breakfast Sunday, we headed to Georgetown to spend the day at the annual Cardinal O’Connor Conference on Life, finding time to stop for some of the famous Georgetown Cupcakes along the way. At the conference, we were most inspired by a powerful keynote address from the beautiful Lila Rose, founder of Live Action, which works to expose illegal practices at Planned Parenthood clinics. Live Action has been in the news a lot recently for a critical sting operation at a New Jersey clinic. Lila Rose is incredibly gracious and lovely in person, and my friends and I left in awe of her talent and remarkable young leadership.

After the conference we went to dinner at the cozy and elegant Martin’s Tavern, where President John F. Kennedy proposed to Jackie, then made our way to the National Basilica of the Immaculate Conception for the annual Mass for Life. Daniel Cardinal DiNardo, Chairman of the United States Council of Catholic Bishops Committee on Pro-Life Activities, was the principal celebrant and homilist. Attending that Mass was somewhat like going to a class reunion: I kept seeing more and more people I know, including dear friends from home, college buddies and my little sister with her high school group. We took picture after picture, exchanged many hugs and left happy at the powerful witness we had seen in the many American Catholics present.

If the Mass Sunday night was like a class reunion, the March on Monday was like a family reunion. Several more buses of Notre Dame students arrived Monday morning to attend the March and they happily joined our group for morning adventures. As marchers gathered for the Rally for Life on the National Mall, I saw acquaintances from every stage of my life, and indeed spent the hours before and after the March seeking out old friends for brief, happy reunions.

The March itself was unforgettable. Father Jenkins, Notre Dame’s president, walked beside me for a little while, an unexpected brush with celebrity. As we marched, my fellow students and I sang the Notre Dame Fight Song and the Alma Mater. We even adapted some classic Notre Dame football cheers for the occasion, along the lines of “Go Irish! Save babies!”

Marching side by side with several of my professors and hundreds of my fellow students was empowering beyond anything I have ever experienced. I felt grateful to be a student at Notre Dame, where I see my friends and professors standing up for the values that matter most to them. I felt grateful to be an American, where open and vocal protest of the government is permitted and even heeded. As we walked down the National Mall and through the streets of D.C., the hundreds of thousands marching with me filled me with hope. By the time we took our group picture in front of the Supreme Court Building, I felt confident in the power of our generation to cause lasting change in America.

Since I returned to campus, my professors and friends have asked me many questions about the March with curiosity. They ask me where I stayed, what the schedule was, and how many students attended. What they never ask is why I went to D.C. What motivated me to leave the comfort of my dorm room to spend four nights sleeping on buses and library floors and marching outside on a cold, wintry day?

I went on the March for so many reasons, some of which were superficial. It’s a lot of fun for a college student to spend a weekend exploring our nation’s capital with her friends, you know. Some of my reasons were based on friends and family ties; I went to D.C. partly to reunite with old acquaintances and partly also to be an example to my younger sisters.

My main reason for attending the March, however, is that I truly do believe my actions make a difference. This is America, where every citizen can and should have a voice if they choose to speak out. But instead, millions of Americans are silenced before they ever have the chance to speak for themselves. As Lila Rose pointed out, almost a third of my generation is missing because of abortion. By attending the March, I believe that I offered a voice for them.

In spite of all the good times my friends and I had that weekend in D.C., the serious intent behind the March must not be forgotten. It’s time that our marching and our many prayers finally bear fruit in legislative change. As enjoyable as the weekend was, I hope with all my heart that we won’t need to have a March next year.

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